Sustainable, healthy neighbourhoods
A growing body of research is showing that land use practices which promote climate protection and environmental sustainability also enable healthy living (walking, cycling, eating fresh food, and civic engagement). Consequently, there is increasing interest among the health sector for the promotion of walkable, compact, “smart growth” communities.
In 2009, research suggesting that the “built environment” is an important determinant of health led to new provincial legislation mandating BC health authorities to work on an expanded set of land use planning issues—beyond the more traditional water, sewer and air quality portfolios. Also in 2009, the Heart and Stroke Foundation took an important step toward having health considered alongside sustainability in land use planning by way of “Healthy Canada by Design,” a cross-provincial, cross-sector initiative designed to translate the latest research on the linkages between health and the built environment into tools, policies, and actions that support the creation of healthy communities.
In 2010, the national initiative facilitated engagement of health authorities in land use planning processes in major cities in BC, Ontario, and Quebec. Three BC health authorities, Fraser Health Authority, Vancouver Coastal Health, and Vancouver Island Health Authority, were part of the project. In 2011, the Heart and Stroke Foundation hired a planning consultant to help them continue the work.
Utilizing the planning consultant’s expertise, the health authorities offered to support municipal planners with information and tools to create healthier, more sustainable communities. The work has had many benefits so far, including those summarized here:
- Vancouver Coastal Health produced a briefing paper called “Cool Neighbourhoods are Healthy Neighbourhoods: How Local Government Actions on Climate Change Help Create Healthier Communities”. The paper highlighted the overlap between land use planning and transportation policies that promote health and those that promote sustainability, demonstrating that health authorities and land use planners can be strategic allies for action on shared interests.
- Vancouver Island Health Authority expanded the membership and scope of work of the Greater Victoria Air Quality Working Group to include land use planning and greenhouse gas reduction competencies. The new Working Group is comprised of stakeholders with diverse expertise enabling them to address cross-sector challenges related to air quality, land use planning, transportation, climate change, and health.
- Fraser Health Authority facilitated the pilot testing in Surrey City Centre of new software from Toronto Public Health, which produces statistics on the health impacts of various land use and transport planning scenarios. Results from the pilot show that a future build-out scenario with increased density and mix of uses (commercial, residential), as well as other health-promoting built environment features would be associated with an 86% increase in active trips/person/day, a 102% increase in cycling to work/school, and a 10% increase in daily physical energy expenditure (kcal/kg/day).
- Two health authority partners took their land use planning work beyond urban centers into other BC communities. Following engagement model testing in the Sunshine Coast, Powell River, Whistler, and with First Nations groups, one of the health authorities developed a preliminary set of outreach materials and frameworks for land use planning issues in rural and aboriginal communities.
“This is a first step to adapt this important work and supporting tools to rural and remote communities,” says Brenda Kent, Manager of Health Promotion at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, BC & Yukon. “We can’t simply ‘copy and paste’ urban approaches to rural settings. So, we are proceeding carefully and looking to secure further resources to strengthen our capacity to join forces with rural communities in this area of action.”
The Heart and Stroke Foundation has since stretched the impact of its work, hosting webinars, workshops, and community engagement events to educate others about what they can do to create more compact, walkable, healthier communities. For example, with the help Vancouver Coastal Health and the District of North Vancouver, the Heart and Stroke Foundation hosted a Conversation Café event in Lynn Valley for a community dialogue about a neighbourhood plan that is currently being drafted for the area. Local media wrote positively about the event. The Heart and Stroke Foundation also assisted the Urban Public Health Network in expanding its built environment website.
Additionally, papers describing the project, outcomes, lessons learned, and experiences of the three health authorities will be presented to the BC Healthy Built Environment Alliance and the Ministry of Health, and submitted for publication by the Canadian Journal of Public Health, and the National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy.
In 2010, the Real Estate Foundation provided the Heart and Stroke Foundation with a $35,000 grant to build capacity among three BC health authorities so they could actively participate in land use planning processes. This project aligns with our goal to support land use practices that contribute to resilient, healthy communities. After a relatively short period of time, the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s initiative is helping to dissolve health and land use planning silos in BC.
By Sam Brown